What the End of HBO Max—and the Rise of ‘Max’—Means for Streaming

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A year ago This week, one of the biggest mergers in history finally closed. It was the marriage of Discovery and WarnerMedia, a $43 billion deal that formed what’s now known as Warner Bros. Discovery. It wasn’t long before the axes fell. A few weeks later, management shut down the news streaming service CNN+. There were thousands of layoffs. Then, in a move that surprised even close observers, it canned the Batgirl movie and started pulling beloved shows like Westworld from HBO Max.

All of this bad news came with promises: New CEO David Zaslav wanted the studio to be making better DC movies. And to keep it focused on theatrical releases, the company would merge HBO Max and Discovery+ into one monster streaming service. At the time, WIRED fretted that it marked the impending demise of HBO Max, which had quickly become one of the most beloved streaming services around. Today the company revealed that the service, which is now simply called Max, will launch on May 23. Friends, the end is near .

As he took the stage during a press event to announce Max, Zaslav repeated the new service’s catchphrase, “the one to watch,” many times. The idea, he said, was that the melding of all of the company’s intellectual property would make the streaming service a home to Batman, Barbie, and Bugs Bunny. Also, House of the Dragon and House Hunters. That’s true, but also, that’s TV—not HBO Max.

Warner Bros. Discovery’s honchos clearly know this. Even as they touted Max as a place with something for the whole family, they also, in the words of global streaming president JB Perrette, wanted to “privilege” HBO’s offerings on the new streaming service. At the same time, execs promoted crossover content like Barbie Dreamhouse Challengea new HGTV home-renovation series that is, you guessed it, tied to the release of Greta Gerwig’s upcoming Barbie movie. Previously, a winking take on an iconic toy like Barbie would’ve been right at home on HBO Max; having it next to a reno reality series feels like cognitive dissonance.

Ironically, this is the exact confusion Warner Bros. Discovery was aiming to avoid. During the presentation, Perrette referred to the streaming industry as a teenager still figuring itself out, noting that consumers refer to this time as an “era of peak confusion” when It comes to what service is best for them. Having one streamer with a plethora of Warner Bros. and Discovery content on it will increase the volume of options those viewers have, but it remains unclear whether it will help them make choices.

Consumer choice is a bit of a touchy subject for Warner Bros. Discovery these days. It wasn’t mentioned or alluded to during the presentation, but late last week four lawmakers—Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Representative Joaquin Castro of Texas, Representative David Cicilline of Rhode Island, and Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington—sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland and Justice Department antitrust chief Jonathan Kanter calling on them to investigate the Warner Bros. and Discovery merger. The union, they wrote, seemingly allowed the company to “adopt potentially anticompetitive practices that reduce consumer choice and affected workers labor markets” (ie Hollywood).

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